And I’d like to demonstrate to you what it is, how it works and why you should care.
So we have a lot to cover here. This is probably going to be a pretty long post but bear with me because it will be worth it.
Let’s start at the beginning…
What Is Crowdsourcing?
Well here is the wikipedia definition:
Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. This process can occur both online and offline. Crowdsourcing is different from an ordinary outsourcing since it is a task or problem that is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific body. An example of specific body is paid employees from a company.
The subtle key in this definition is that the ‘crowd’ is the undefined public. It’s a group of individuals which the task originator has little or no control over – at least little to no direct control and in some cases no control at all – and that’s the interesting part.
There has been a significant shift in the way companies do business – did you see it?
For a while now big companies have been growing because they are happy to give up control and let the ‘crowd’ define their main product. This is quite a big step and the first companies to explore this needed to have some cahunas.
Instead of lingering around the definition, it might be easier if I just show you…
Would A Simple Example Help?
Let’s suppose you wanted to try a little crowdsourcing experiment of your own.
Let’s imagine a fairly simple task. You want to create a new playlist (in old terms, ‘a compilation CD‘… in even older terms, ‘a mix tape‘ ;-)).
Creating The Playlist On Your Own
If you did this on your own it would require quite a bit of thought, sifting through the thousands of songs in your collection (you do have thousands of songs in your collection, right?) and answering questions to yourself such as ‘Have I heard that song too much?’.
But it’s a simple enough task in the end.
You could create the playlist in anything from around 15 minutes to an hour of effort depending upon how fussy you are.
Creating The Playlist Using Crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing adds an extra dimension we have not yet discussed – you get the experience, mind and voice of the crowd. In our super-simple example that translates to their taste in music, rather than just your own (in more complicated examples, you can imagine this access to the crowd’s experience can be really powerful – i.e. it’s not just more capacity, it’s more and different experience).
Back to our example… To create our playlist using the crowd we ask 100 people for their favorite song. Let’s say 20 respond, which is enough for our playlist and a reasonable response rate to expect, then we quickly and easily have a playlist. The beauty of doing it this way is:
- It takes a lot less effort from each individual. It only takes a couple of minutes to tell someone your favorite song. It also only takes that time or less to ask someone their favorite song.
- The result will be a playlist which includes the tastes of the crowd – meaning you may just discover some music you’d never heard before.
Introducing: The Life’s Too Good Playlist
Just to make it a little clearer – I’ll show you.
I actually did conduct this little experiment exactly as described above.
I asked 100 people from our subscriber list for their favorite song and with around 20 responses, the resulting playlist, The Life’s Too Good Playlist, is shown below.
If you sent me your favorite song, please claim your song by leaving a brief comment below. Just let us know that you spotted your song on the list and tell us which song is yours.
The Life’s Too Good Playlist (In Order of Responses Received)
- Learning To Fly – Pink Floyd
- Dancing In The Moonlight – King Harvest
- I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
- Lust – Tori Amos
- I Love You What Can I Say – Jerry Reed
- Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
- Fade – Solu featuring Kimblee
- Radioactive – Kings of Leon
- Yumeji’s Theme – Shigeru Umebayashi
- Bubbly – Colbie Caillet
- Country Roads – John Denver
- Just A Boy – Angus & Julia Stone
- Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
- He Went To Paris – Jimmy Buffet
- The Last Farewell – Roger Whitaker
- What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
- Ev’rything I’ve Got – Ella Fitzgerald
- Caledonia – Frankie Miller
- The Queen and The Soldier – Suzanne Vega
- Black Heart – Sooshie
- Beautiful Day – U2
By the way, this is not my list.
This is our list. I did choose one song in there just like everyone else and OK, I had the idea and put it together (neither of which were very difficult), but you own this list just as much as I do.
So I actually have created this list and burned it onto a CD. I’ve already listened to it a couple of times in the car. It puts a smile on my face, because for me this is not just a list of songs but it reminds me of our awesome readers and Life’s Too Good.
As an added bonus, just putting it together I got to know just a little bit more about those of you who responded – having some quite in-depth conversations with a couple of you where we went on a little music taste journey. I do love music.
To put this in business terms, you could imagine this as a product that we created with minimal effort. Because of advances in social media and technology for communication as well as the creation and marketing of products, you have possibilities like never before and YOU can create things very very easily.
In this case I deliberately carried out the very simplest example I could think of to prove a point and show how crowdsourcing works at a very basic level. We could obviously take this further because the next steps when you have a product, even a very basic one, is that you then have something you can work with, refine, market, produce etc etc etc… and that holds true by the way even if it’s just an idea.
Even if it’s something as simple as a playlist.
Why You Should Care
In case you haven’t noticed, the world is changing fast and the concept of ‘the crowd’ is a bigger and bigger part of not only business, but of everyday life. Political regimes have been toppled recently thanks to technological advances enabling masses of people who would otherwise be silenced to have a voice – and you’re more impacted by crowdsourcing than you know.
We’re All Part of The Crowd
These days we’re most likely part of a crowdsourcing solution in our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. That’s because since the internet really started to take off (and particularly when something called ‘Web 2.0’ came along) savvy companies have built a feedback loop into their core business processes, in fact for a lot of companies, the customer is the product.
Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter… When you send a social media update, you have just expanded that platform’s brand, you have successfully contributed to their business. Don’t get me started on Google…
Good or Bad?
You could see these changes as quite scary.
The world is indeed moving at a fast pace.
We can always step off and get back to nature (which I like too) but the advances in technology will keep happening and next time we tune in there will most likely always be someone listening for your voice if you want to join in.
So is this a good or a bad thing?
Personally, on balance I don’t mind the idea that I am contributing to various businesses as part of some crowd or other almost every minute of every day. I’m not naive enough to think that it’s all good news though. A very real by-product of this is that you need to be very careful who can see your data, which data they have and have not got about you and what they can do with it.
Anyways, not to labor the point here, there is obviously a good and a bad side to all of this. Overall I think it’s good though – and did I say I find it fascinating?
What do you think?
Please do let me know in the comments, I promise, promise, promise your comments are safe here.
A Cool Infographic From One Of The Biggest Crowdsourcing Companies Out There
Note: You can click on the image to view a ‘zoomable’ version in your browser.
99Designs clearly ‘get’ the idea of crowdsourcing.
Their whole business model is based upon it.
The way 99Designs works just in case you haven’t heard of them, is that they provide graphic design work for a very competitive price and to a very high standard. The way they do this is by taking a potential clients requirements and providing a platform for potential graphic designers to compete for that work in a virtual competition. As part of that competition the designers will actually provide the designs and the client pays for the one they like the most. This way the client gets to see lots of choice, possibilities, different ideas (remember that point about getting the wisdom and different experiences of the crowd?) and the competition drives up the quality too.
Another Simple Example (Which Lead To A Very Successful Product)
Just in case you thought the playlist example above was a little simplistic, here is another example which is just as simple in concept (i.e. a single simple question put out to the crowd and then creating something from the collected responses) – an ebook.
Danny Iny also ‘gets’ the idea of crowdsourcing.
To create his very popular e-book ‘Engagement From Scratch’, Danny asked a number of well known bloggers a single simple question “How would you build engagement if you were starting again from scratch?”. He then collated all of the answers into an e-book, structured it and added some linking commentary of his own. What happened next? Well, with a little marketing (Danny is something of a marketing expert), the book became a huge hit.
Though Danny almost certainly did a tremendous amount of work promoting that book, he didn’t need to produce much content at all – probably less than 10% of it – all of the main content of the book was provided by ‘the crowd’ – in his case a crowd of reputable bloggers.
Do you see how similar this is to the simple playlist example above?
The beauty of this particular example is that Danny was able to gain tremendous leverage from the names of the contributors and in turn enhanced his own reputation and brand (this is what is known as referent authority).
In fact the cover of that book is very simple too but very clever – it is all of the contributors names written all over the cover on a white background – genius. If you were interested in how to gain engagement, wouldn’t you like to read the combined wisdom of all of those famous bloggers who have been there, seen it, done it and succeeded in that field?
More On Crowdsourcing
As I said at the start, crowdsourcing is here to stay, and I don’t know about you but I find it fascinating.
We can also break tasks into lots of smaller tasks and give them to computers or separate computer programs like never before too – that’s a lot like crowdsourcing too.
We’ve only just scratched the surface here.
There’s still an awful lot we haven’t covered – specifically how, if you are interested in crowdsourcing something more complex, where would you go to find a ‘crowd’ to help you? What are some other applications of crowdsourcing?
This really is a huge area and there’s lots more I could share with you but we’ve probably covered enough for one post so we’ll leave it there for now and I’ll follow this up shortly with some more applications, success stories and examples and some further research on the subject.
If you have questions on the subject, then let me know and perhaps I can answer these in the next article on this subject.
Update – here’s that follow-up: Crowdsourcing II: 10 Interesting and Varied Crowdsourcing Examples.
Over To You
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
How could crowdsourcing be useful to you? Is it just an interesting subject which shows us how much and how quickly the world is changing around us or is it actually something you could or you already plan to use?
Did you join the favorite song experiment? What did/do you think?
Do you have experience with crowdsourcing already you’d like to share?